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Reading the Coded Surface Bulletin

The coded surface bulletin describes the locations of high and low pressure centers, surface frontal systems, and surface troughs. The particular type of feature is represented by capital letters and is followed by a series of four or five digit numbers. For pressure centers the strength of the high or low is given in whole millibars and is followed by a string containing the latitude and longitude of the feature. The first two digits indicate the latitude in degrees north, while the last two or three represent the longitude in degrees west. Both values are rounded to whole degrees. Fronts and troughs are described through a series of latitude and longitude points; additionally, fronts are followed by their intensity.

Here's an example (Decode this bulletin) :

VALID 020603Z
HIGHS 1029 34128 1036 4975 1036 4073 1034 41117 1035 44118
1032 51117 1037 5893 1035 48106
LOWS 971 59144 1010 3787 1011 3388 1011 3190 1006 24103
1013 32104 1023 5094 994 5459
OCFNT WK 60144 59137 55131 51129 49129
COLD MDT 49129 44130 41131 38134 35136 33141
STNRY STG 6135 6138 5942 5945 6048 6150
OCFNT WK 5559 5555 5551 5348 5145 4944 4644
WARM WK 3787 3786 3786 3686 3586 3486 3386
COLD WK 3190 2892 2593 2294 2197 2098 21100
STNRY WK 39105 40106 42108 45109 47111 50113 52114 55116 56117
TROF 3887 3988 4090
TROF 3887 3885 3983 3980 3979


VALID 020603Z
The valid time of the analysis in the format MMDDHH where:
  • MM is the two-digit month - example: 02 is February
  • DD is the two-digit day - example: 06 is the 6th day of the month
  • HH is the two-digit hour - example: 03 which stands for 0300 Z or 0300 UTC
The Z at the end indicates that this is Zulu or UTC time.


HIGHS 1029 34128 1036 4975 1036 4073 ...
Describes the strength and location of high pressure centers. The first value is the central pressure in millibars. The second value is the location in whole degrees latitude and longitude. In the example above,
  • 1029 34128 - This is a 1029 millibar (mb) high centered at 34 degrees North (N), 128 degrees West (W).
  • 1036 4975 - A 1036 mb high centered at 49N 75W.


LOWS 971 59144 1010 3787 1011 3388 ...
Describes the strength and location of low pressure centers. In this example,
  • 971 59144 - This is a 971 mb low centered at 59N 144W.
  • 1010 3787 - A 1010 mb low centered at 37N 87W.

The remainder of the message provides the location of all fronts and troughs in whole degrees latitude and longitude and also describes the intensity of fronts.

OCFNT WK 60144 59137 55131 51129 49129

This is a weak (WK) occluded front (OCFNT) extending from 60N 144W through 59N 137W, 55N 131W, 51N 129W, ending at 49N 129W.

COLD MDT 49129 44130 41131 38134 35136 33141
This is a moderate (MDT) cold front extending from 49N 129W through 44N 130W, 41N 131W, 38N 134W, 35N 136W, ending at 33N 141W.

TROF 3887 3988 4090
This is a trough (or trof as labeled on the surface map) extending through 38N 87W, 39N 88W, and 40N 90W. Note that troughs do not have an intensity label.

All possible frontal types and intensities are provided in the table below.

Frontal Type Strength
WARM - warm front WK - weak
COLD - cold front MDT - moderate
STNRY - stationary front STG - strong
OCFNT - occluded front  


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Page last modified: Thursday, 01-Mar-2007 18:20:19 UTC